About Elly31 Jan 2017
I saw About Elly after seeing Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman earlier this week. His A Separation is one of my favorite foreign films of all time. I was impressed with The Salesman but not bowled over. I was expecting about the same reaction for About Elly. But, boy, was I wrong. This film completely knocked me over. I found myself, multiple times, yelling out loud on my couch at home because the story had me wound so tight.
Lying and deception is a common theme in art made in authoritarian regimes. Farhadi’s films or books like The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson’s brilliant novel about North Korea, capture the sense of the collective process through which social reality is built in places like Iran and North Korea. When the rule of law and the guise of politics lack public trust, downstream effects are also found in community building or personal relationships. The inability of each of these characters to be totally honest with one another is not just some personal moral failing, but a structural reality for citizens of totalitarian states.
Though themes like this, and marital relations, and middle class life in modern Iran are present in Farhadi’s films, he doesn’t hit you over the head with them. Instead, his writing and directorial talents are laser focused on story telling. The script for this film is masterful. Every reveal, every plot turn and twist is perfectly calibrated, introduced at the right time, tied up and explained through dialog perfectly. The blocking, framing and lighting choices Farhadi makes as a director are brilliant. The performances he gets out of his actors, especially characters like Peyman, Sepideh and Alireza are fantastic. This is a nearly perfectly told story from start to finish, with ebbs-and-flows like the ocean that keeps pulling you further in just when you thought you had your footing in the sand. A chamber piece for the ages.